The Romans:
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The Roman Invasion - Julius Caesar:

Rome invaded Britain because it suited the careers of two men; the first was Julius Caesar, a republican general that had conquered Gaul, who was looking for an excuse to avoid returning to Rome; Britain afforded him one, so in 55 BC, when Commius, king of the Atrebates, was ousted by Cunobelin, king of the Catuvellauni, and fled to Gaul, Caesar seized the opportunity to mount an expedition on behalf of Commius; he wanted to gain the glory of a victory beyond the Great Ocean and believed that Britain was full of silver and booty to be plundered.

His first expedition, however, was ill-conceived and too hastily organised; with just two legions, he failed to do no more than force his way ashore at Deal and win a token victory, but he did impressed the senate in Rome, so in 54 BC, he tried again, this time with five legions and he succeeded in re-establishing Commius on to the Atrebatic throne; however, he returned to Gaul disgruntled and empty-handed, complaining in a letter to Cicero that there was no silver or booty to be found in Britain after all.


The Roman Invasion - Emperor Claudius:

The second man to invade Britain was the Emperor Claudius, who had recently been made emperor in a palace coup and he needed the prestige of military conquest in order to consolidate his hold on power; luckily for Claudius, Verica, successor to Commius, came to him complaining that the new chief of the Catuvellauni, Caratacus, had deprived him of his throne.

Like Caesar, Claudius seized his chance and in AD 43, he sent four legions across the sea to invade Britain; they landed at Richborough and pushed towards the River Medway, where they met with stiff resistance; however, the young general Vespasian forced the river with his legion supported by a band of 'Celtic' auxiliaries, and the British were routed.

Vespasian marched west, to storm Maiden Castle and Hod Hill with such ruthless efficiency that the catapult bolts used to subdue them can still be dug out of the ground today; Hod Hill contains a tiny Roman fort from this time, tucked into one corner of its massive earthworks; meanwhile, Claudius arrived in Britain to enter the Catuvellaunian capital of Colchester in triumph; he founded a temple there, containing a fine bronze statue of himself and established a legionary fortress, but he himself remained in Britain for only 16 days.

Britain under Roman Rule:

The Roman empire was based on two things, lip service to the emperor and payment to the army; as long as you acknowledged the imperial cult and paid your taxes, Rome did not really care how you lived your life and despite the fact that Britain was invaded for neither wealth, nor strategic reasons, but for a politician's career; Rome had no intention of releasing its hold over Britain and it took another 30 years of fighting for the Romans to conquer most of the island, although, they never managed to conquer the Highlands of Scotland.

Even though it is said that the Romans invaded Britain, there were in fact very few 'Romans' in Britain during the invasion; there were plenty of Batavians, Thracians, Mauretanians and Sarmatians, etc, all of then brought in through service in the army and all surviving members eventually granted citizenship and a packet of land after their 25 years of service; they settled all over Britain, becoming naturalised British citizens of the Roman Empire, erecting a wealth of inscriptions which attest to their assimilation and prosperity; most of them settled in or near the fort where they had served, staying close to their friends.

Gradually, these urban settlements outside the fort grew into townships, which were eventually granted municipal status; in certain cases, such as Colchester ('the Colonia by the camp'), the city was an official colony of veteran soldiers imposed upon the local population; but usually the evolution was more generic; Chester (or 'the camp') is an example of this; standing on the city walls, you can still look down upon the remains of the amphitheatre that stood outside the military camp; in this way, the army acted as the natural force of assimilation. NB. See map of Roman Britain.

Day-to-day Life:

The evidence for what life was like in these places has largely been eradicated by the cities' urban sprawl, but in more remote areas, like at Vindolanda up on Hadrian's Wall, you can still see just what the original Roman settlement looked like; Vindolanda housed several units in its history, among them the Ninth Batavians, from whom a large pile of correspondence was found written on thin wooden writing tablets, deposited in one of their rubbish tips; there were over 200 of these writing tablets dating back to AD 95-115; they were mainly official documents and letters written in ink, they are the oldest historical documents known from Britain.

Among them is a set of letters between Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the camp commander and her friend Claudia Severa, wife of the commander at Housesteads, around ten miles up the road; they paint a picture of life on the frontier very much like that of a British officer's wife on the north-west frontier, full of empty days, relative discomfort, boredom and loneliness; life for the ordinary people of the vicus or village seemed a little more interesting than that of the upper classes, but it remained harsh and unforgiving; one soldier complains of being beaten with rods, another refers disparagingly to the local British population as 'Brittunculi' (little Britons).

In the third century AD, marriage for soldiers was permitted and the vicus, where their concubines had always lived, was rebuilt in stone; they constructed a beautiful little bath house where the soldiers could relax and a guest house called a mansio, with six guest rooms and its own private bath suite, for travellers on official business, along the wall; the vicus at Housesteads was rebuilt at the same time; by this time, all adults in the empire had been granted blanket citizenship and the 'Romans' in Britain had become fully assimilated with their British neighbours.

The Cause of the Boudiccan rebellion:

The best way to understand how Rome controlled her provinces is to look at why that control broke down in AD 60; the Boudiccan revolt was caused not because the Iceni were opposed to Roman rule, but because they had embraced it too whole-heartedly.

Rome tended to control its provinces by bribing the local elite; they were given power, wealth, office and status on condition that they kept the peace and adopted Roman ways; if you took a Roman name, spoke Latin and lived in a villa, you were assured of receiving priesthoods and positions of local power; the quid pro quo was that you were expected to spend your money and influence in providing Roman amenities for your people, newly civilised in the literal sense that Roman towns and cities were founded for them to live in; in Britain, physical evidence of this process can be seen in inscriptions at the colonia of Colchester and in the palace of the client king Cogidubnus at Fishbourne, with its spectacular mosaics.

However, new provinces brought with them new markets and unscrupulous speculators eager to fleece the unwary; it was like the introduction of the free market to the post-communist world and the worst sharks were in the Imperial Household itself; vast loans were granted at ruinous rates of interest to the British aristocracy, by the likes of Seneca, the emperor Nero's tutor and adviser; at the same time, those who had been made priests of the Imperial Cult at Colchester found it an expensive task.

Boudicca was flogged and her daughters raped:

It was at this point that Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, died; in his will, he left half of his kingdom to the emperor Nero, hoping in this way to secure the other half for his wife, Boudicca; however, the imperial procurator, Decianus Catus, was aware that Nero viewed a half share of an estate as a personal snub and moved to sequester the lot; at the same time, he sent in the bailiffs to act on the loans outstanding and allowed the local centurions to requisition provisions for the army; when the royal family resisted these moves, Boudicca was flogged and her daughters were raped.

The humiliated Iceni rose up in revolt, joined by other East Anglian tribes who had similar grievances; they could not have picked a better time; the governor, Suetonius Paullinus, was in Anglesey, subduing the druids, with most of the army of the province; what remained of the Ninth Legion was massacred when it tried to stop the rebels and Colchester, London and Verulamium were razed to the ground; the black earth of the destruction layer and mutilated tombstones attest to the ferocity of the British assault; with just 200 men to defend him, Decianus Catus fled to Gaul at their approach.

Paullinus rushed back from Anglesey to deal with the revolt; although, the site of the final battle is still in dispute, the form it took is well described; Boudicca was defeated and committed suicide shortly afterwards; the punitive expedition into Iceni territory was halted when it was feared that further reprisals would harm future imperial revenues; meanwhile Catus was replaced by Classicianus, a Romanised Gaul from Trier, who took a softer approach; his tombstone can be found in London, which became the new provincial capital at this time.

The Religion of the Romano-Britons:

Both Rome and Britain had polytheistic religions, in which a multiplicity of gods could be propitiated at many levels; at one end of the spectrum were the official cults of the emperor and the Capitoline Triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, linked to other Olympian gods like Mars; at the other end, every spring, every river, every crossroads, lake or wood had its own local spirit with its own local shrine; the Romans had no problem in combining these with their own gods, simply associating them with the god(s) or goddess(es) which resembled them most.

At Bath, the famous temple bath complex was founded on the site of a local shrine to the water goddess Sul of the hot springs; she was linked to Minerva, for her healing qualities, but images of other gods and goddesses were also set up in the temple, most especially Diana the Huntress, to whom an altar was dedicated.

Over 6,000 coins were cast as offerings into the waters of Bath, along with vast quantities of lead or bronze curse tablets, asking Sulis-Minerva to intercede on behalf of the worshipper; these were also nailed up on poles within the temple precinct and provide an interesting glimpse into the everyday lives of the people who visited the shrine; this didn't just happen in Bath, two hundred curse tablets were recovered from the temple to Mercury at Uley, approximately one third of all such tablets known in the empire and others were found elsewhere.

Britain was a frontier province, which contained three legions for most of its chequered history; it was invaded because it could further a Roman's career and it was conquered for similar reasons; the Boudiccan Revolt was only possible because the governor, Paullinus, was pursuing military glory against the druids; his distinguished subordinate and eventual successor Agricola founded a very respectable career, including a consulship in Rome, on subduing the rest of Britain.

According to Tacitus, he was only prevented from conquering Scotland by the envy of the emperor Domitian and the half-finished legionary fortress at Inchtuthil tends to corroborate reports of a hurried withdrawal on imperial orders, though Domitian did have a German war on his hands for which he needed troops; Domitian's father, Vespasian, had begun an illustrious senatorial career with command of the legion that won the Battle of Medway and took Maiden Castle; he had ended it as emperor.

Scotland remained a holy grail for the Romans and once the emperor Hadrian had marked out the boundaries with a prestige project of his own, it became a legitimate target for conquest; Hadrian's immediate successor Antoninus Pius had a go, as did Septimius Severus and the father of the emperor Constantine, Constantius Chlorus.

Constantine proved what many Roman generals before him had realised, that Britain was an excellent base from which to mount a rebellion; when his father died at York in AD 301, the troops immediately acclaimed him as emperor and he used the British army as the core of the force with which he finally conquered the empire.

At the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, he scrawled the Chi-Rho symbol of Christianity onto his soldiers' shields and won a miraculous victory; in gratitude, he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and at the Council of Nicea established the Nicene Creed of the Catholic Church; in one respect, you could say that Britain was the birthplace of Roman Catholicism.

In AD 410, the civitates of Britain sent a letter to the emperor Honorius, asking him to come to their aid against the Saxon invaders; he wrote back telling them to 'look to their own defences' and Roman influence in Britain was officially ended; the very fact that the citizens of Britain appealed to the Roman emperor for help says much about their self-perception as citizens of the empire and the fact that the emperor could not oblige says much about the pressure he was under.

Britain had already 'looked to her own defences' in AD 259 under the Gallic Empire and AD 284 under Carausius and both times she had been brought back into the fold; Britain had been conquered to satisfy the need of an individual Roman emperor; once taken, the imperial image required that it should be held onto tenaciously and its loss was the first ominous death knell of Rome.



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